This week the Sandgrounders made the journey to the Kit Green area of Wigan to play at the Heinz 57 factory. Ged Wilson got there early having unpacked the boot of his car in the hope of free samples from our generous hosts – alas he was to leave empty handed unless you count the POM award. Joining him were Captain Nick Foss and answering a late SOS to replace a poorly Nick Wilson was the Sandgrounders only ever present to date – Colin Fyles. Get well soon Nick.
It would appear that Heinz were having their annual audit for there to greet them was their firm of accountants Messrs Brookes, Bolton & Bennett. The accountants had clearly spent some time luxuriating in the legendary Heinz bean pool which it is said has the power of rejuvenation – Dave Bennett had gone full Benjamin Button and looked and played 10 years younger than the previous day at Rainford practice – and the home side raced into a 9-7 lead after the first round of singles matches.
Raced is perhaps the wrong description as, setting the tone for the evening, every game went to 5 and it was almost 9pm by the time game 4 commenced. Nick had done his best impression of the Rainford Scamperer to beat Gentleman Jim Brookes, Colin lost a hard hitting game to Dave 11-8 in the 5th and Ged came back from 2-0 to the League Chairman Sir Jim Bolton and led 9-5 in the 5th only to eventually lose 11-9. Even the watching Allan Pickford was breathless.
Dave then had a singles win that he will treasure for at least a week as he beat Nick for the first time 13-11 – yes you've guessed it in the 5th. Ged managed to right the Sandgrounders ship with an excellent 3-1 win against Gentleman Jim, but at half time the men from Southport (with a Rainford ‘right to remain’ passport) were trailing 13 -12.
It was at this point that something mysterious happened. Sadly for the Heinz chaps it would appear that they had spent insufficient time in the bean pool as their previous miraculous powers seemed to ebb away and desert them. Where they had been hitting winners now the Sandgrounders were able to retrieve and instead of getting the benefit of nets and edges they were now on the receiving end. The Sandgrounders won the final 5 matches.
Ged and Nick beat Jim and Jim 3-1 in the doubles and Colin beat Sir Jim by the same score. By the time of the final round of singles Dave was showing signs of ageing and Ged took advantage inflicting a cruel 3-0 defeat.
Nick beat Sir Jim of Bolton 3-2 in an epic encounter with both players at times enjoying good fortune and being equally profligate with serves and smashes. Afterwards Sir Jim enquired of the Sandgrounders' skipper “How old are you Nick?” When the reply of 58 came back Sir Jim, ever the diplomat and surely seeking a place in the Johnson Brexit negotiating team, said “Oh I thought you were older than that!” Old Nick was wounded but not sure whether he was more hurt by Sir Jim's quip or defeat of the hands of Mr Bennett.
Colin and Gentleman Jim finished the evening in style with a smashing match (yes literally – you had to feel sorry for the ball) which ended 3-2 in Colin's favour. This gave a final score of 27-18 to the Sandgrounders but that only tells half the story. We had high drama with 6 tussles going to 5 and only one straight sets win. We had some ping pong of the highest quality and some points of pure farce. But overall we had a bloody good game played, yet again, in the very best of spirits. Two teams who both wanted to win but wanted to play in the right manner.
All six had played fantastically and as the exhausted players departed the Heinz club the sweet smell of success was in the air, but hold on, was it tomato, perhaps oxtail, no surely muligatawny - well actually there were 54 other possibilities.